Salman Rushdie’s Fantastical American Quest Novel
The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, talks with Salman Rushdie about “Quichotte,” his apocalyptic quest novel. A few years ago, when the four hundredth anniversary of “Don Quixote” was being celebrated, Rushdie reread Cervantes’s book and found himself newly engaged by a much-improved translation. He immediately began thinking of writing his own story about a “silly old fool,” like Quixote, who becomes obsessed with an unattainable woman and undertakes a quest to win her love. This character became Quichotte (named for the French opera loosely based on “Don Quixote”), who is seeking the love of—or, as she sees it, stalking—a popular talk-show host. As Quichotte journeys to find her, he encounters the truths of contemporary America: the opioid epidemic, white supremacy, the fallout from the war on terror, and more. “I’ve always really liked the risky thing of writing very close up against the present moment,” Rushdie tells Treisman. “If you do it wrong, it’s a catastrophe. If you do it right, with luck, you somehow capture a moment.” At the same time, the novel gives full rein to Rushdie’s fantastical streak—at one point, for instance, Quichotte comes across a New Jersey town where people turn into mastodons. Treisman talks with the author about the influence of science fiction on his imagination, and about his personal connection to the tragedy of opioids. Rushdie’s much younger sister died from the consequences of addiction, and the book is centrally concerned with siblings trying to reconnect after separation.